Duncan Garner: Why a short run-in to the election might suit Judith Collins

OPINION: Well well well, if the answer is Judith Collins - well, what's the question?

There are two.

  1. Can she win the next election? Sure.
  2. Is she the next Prime Minister? Possibly - she's closer now than ever before.

It's no secret Collins has had designs on National's top job since she first flirted with politics as a young lawyer.

Her family was Labour, that drove her up the wall, so she went blue.

It's true she is no-nonsense. I have been on the end of this before, but I have never felt it's a grudge. 

She has personality and she is a warm personable woman too, despite the 'crusher' label.

She has never kept it secret that she wanted to lead this party, and she never liked the question because she basically wanted to scream 'yes of course!' but dealt with it her way.

It's fair to say John Key was always watching his back, rightly so.

But Collins stumbled on her ascent to the top.

She had a meltdown as a Minister, got too close to a company her husband worked with. In short, her judgement was poor - and she had failed the test.

A very senior National MP who is still there told me at the time: 'She can't be trusted. She can count her supporters on one hand, they no longer trust her. Never will.'

But never say never. Judith never did. 

I'll be honest, I thought she was gone as a potential leader, but I guess I should have followed my own advice: never say never.

And now Jacinda Ardern is in her sights.

Here are my takeaways from this change:

  1. She turned up late last night with her entire caucus physically behind her. The symbolism of unity was strong. She won't win if National's in-fighting continues.
  2. Her first job is to unite this wounded bunch.
  3. I don't expect huge change: her style is change in itself.
  4. I expect Collins to be vocal and loud on policy - watch this space.
  5. She is a genuine contrast to Ardern - different generation, different outlook - and voters have a stark choice.

And she's made it clear she wants Ardern's job.

The short run into the election might suit Collins, because it means there's limited time to make mistakes.

I believe Collins is not the brute she once was - she appears more inclusive, with less of a nasty edge.

She'll need all of that and more. Game on.